If you’re arrested for a DUI or DWAI in Colorado, it may be in your best interest to have your attorney try to strike a deal for you to plead guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.
Both DUI/DWAI and reckless driving carry significant penalties if you’re convicted. But in Colorado, reckless driving is not considered an alcohol-related offense. It carries lesser penalties, less significant administrative consequences, and less stigma. It may therefore have lessor consequences on your career, especially if your career involves driving for a living.
However, Colorado isn’t an easy jurisdiction to get a wet reckless plea deal to go through.
What is Wet Reckless in Colorado?
There’s no specific “wet reckless” charge mentioned in any Colorado statute. Instead, the term “wet reckless” is legal jargon for an ordinary reckless driving charge that involves suspected alcohol or drug intoxication. That said, Colorado does not classify reckless driving as an alcohol-related offense.
Penalties for DUI in Colorado
In Colorado, if you were operating the vehicle when you were pulled over and you subsequently are shown to have had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher, your first offense is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of $600 to $1,000 and a jail sentence of 5 days to 1 year, and 48 to 96 hours of public service.
Administratively, you’re also facing a license revocation of up to nine months, and 12 points on your license.
A first-time DWAI conviction is somewhat more lenient, but still significant: You’re looking at from 2 days to 6 months in jail, a fine of $200 to $500, and 24 to 48 hours of public service.
In some cases, the judge may suspend some or all of your jail sentence if you’re willing to complete an alcohol treatment program.
Alcohol-related offenders may have to pay hundreds of dollars in additional fines and fees to cover the cost of alcoholism awareness and victim impact fees.
And, of course, if you hurt anyone else while driving under the influence, or damaged their property, you may face lawsuits.
However, a reckless driving conviction has much less severe penalties in Colorado.
As a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor, a first-time reckless driving conviction carries a jail sentence of 10 to 90 days in jail and a fine of $150 to $300.
However, unlike DUI/DWAI, there’s no mandatory jail sentence.
Since it’s not an alcohol-related offense by statute, it won’t lead to mandatory rehab or added alcohol program costs. And obviously, the maximum jail sentence is much shorter and the maximum fine is much lower than for a DUI or DWAI charge in Colorado.
Who Can Plead to a Wet Reckless in Colorado?
Colorado is very unfriendly to the wet reckless plea deal. In fact, Colorado law expressly prohibits prosecutors from offering a wet reckless deal unless they can make a good faith representation to a judge that they don’t have the evidence to proceed with the higher DUI/DWAI charge.
The DA can’t offer the deal because they like you, or out of sympathy. They can only offer it if their case for proving you were intoxicated is weak.
However, your attorney may be able to convince prosecutors to agree to a wet reckless guilty plea if circumstances warrant.
First, while there’s no such thing as a “compassionate” wet reckless plea offer in Colorado, it does help to be a first-time offender, and it does help to have a BAC test result of 0.08 or just slightly above it.
Second, your attorney will need to have some ammo to go to the prosecution with: They need to show the DA that if they do go to trial, there’s a very good chance the prosecuting attorney will have some egg on his face – after having wasted a lot of taxpayer resources on trial prep and court costs.
No DA wants this.
Here are some issues to discuss with your attorney:
- Can the DA prove you were driving? Lots of people have beaten a drunk driving charge in Colorado because the DA can’t establish that you were actually operating a moving vehicle while you were intoxicated.
- Did the police have reasonable suspicion to make the stop?
- Did the police have probable cause to make the arrest?
- Did the police have probable cause to obtain a blood test warrant?
- Did the police fail to mirandize you?
- Was the police investigation disorganized or incompetent?
- Was the roadside test improperly administered?
- Was the breathalyzer test improperly administered?
- Was the breathalyzer device properly maintained and calibrated?
- Was the blood test properly administered?
- Are there chain of custody problems with the blood sample?
Any one of these issues could cause problems for the attorney trying the case.
The more doubtful the prosecution’s case going into a DUI/DWAI trial, the more likely they will be open to a wet reckless plea deal.
A plea deal will let you put the issue behind you much more quickly. But you’ll still face the reckless driving penalties, the points on your drivers’ license record, and an SR22 insurance requirement. That means you’ll be required to get your car insurance company to file a form with the Colorado Department of Revenue verifying that you have the required liability insurance in place, and that if it lapses, your car insurance company will inform the State of Colorado of the lapse.
As soon as that happens, Colorado will suspend your drivers’ license. They won’t reinstate the license until you obtain a new SR22 filing from your insurance company.
You can also expect your car insurance premiums to go up substantially, even with a reckless driving conviction instead of a DUI in Colorado.
So if the problems with the case are so severe that the DA knows he doesn’t have a good DUI case if it goes to trial, you might want to go to trial.
And beat the charges completely.
This would be a much better outcome than a wet reckless plea. But it’s also much m0re time consuming for you and for your attorney, and much more expensive.
And you could still lose.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh the risks of going to trial against the certainty of taking your lumps with a reckless driving conviction and moving on with your life.
How much do car insurance premiums go up after a DUI in Colorado?
According to a study by Forbes, Colorado residents can expect car insurance premiums to go up by an average of 45% after their first DUI conviction.
But some carriers will jack up your insurance premiums more than others. Every insurance carrier assesses the risk differently. Your age, credit history, safe driving record, occupation, and marital status also will affect your insurance premium. Some carriers will drop you outright after they learn of your first DUI conviction, forcing you to line up other car insurance.
Your premiums will almost certainly go up. And they’ll remain higher for at least three years, or as long as you have an SR22 filing on your insurance.
But you can limit the financial damage by shopping around.
Some carriers will jack up rates super high, or not offer you a policy at all, because they just don’t want high or nonstandard risk drivers on their books.
It’s not personal. It’s just business. Everyone has a different risk tolerance.
Other companies want your business and will compete aggressively for it.
The best move is to shop every carrier in the state as soon as you have to file an SR22. Then shop around again if you plead guilty, are convicted at trial, or are acquitted and no longer have an SR22 requirement.
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See you on the road!
Steve “Mr. Insurance” Ludwig
CEO, Select Insurance Group